Cinderella Redux Augurs Valley of Arts Delight

California Theatre San Jose, Cinderella-
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Chunyan Zhou and Henry Etzkowitz

Alma Deutcher, a 17 year old librettist, conductor and musician, who has been making music since she was two years old took center stage at a  California Theatre Grand Opening in San Jose, November 12, 2022, conducting her re-imagined Cinderella. Reprising an earlier multi-tasking musical prodigy of an earlier era; it is too soon to say whether she is a worthy successor.  Does  David Packard, her sponsor;  the scion of a Silicon Valley founding family have the authority of a monarch whose authority  rested on music as well as dynastic succession? More to the point; does Silicon Valley have the capacity to generate a support base broad enough to keep her involved in the region as a next generation inspiration. Already, she has been pulled to Vienna where more musical resources to support her interests and growth are at hand.


About the story change

In the old fairy tales: Cinderella ‘s mother died early, and she was brought up by his father alone; later her father remarried, and then she was treated unfairly after Cinderella ‘s father died, her stepmother and two daughters bullied her even more. This basic story line hasn’t changed in the new opera version.

What has been changed is that the elements of opera have been added, and Cinderella is not the only daughter born in an aristocratic family, but an opera family. Cinderella ‘s father owned a small opera house on the edge of the city. Cinderella grew up in this environment, was familiar with opera and melody, and was able to compose opera passages with appropriate melodies.

The important significance of the change of Cinderella’s growth environment and the addition of opera content is that: from the European flavor of the royal family to the full American flavor, that is, relying on personal talents and common interests to join hands in love, rather than relying solely on accidental meet-up and personal good-looki. Added solid ground for the love between Cinderella and the Prince, melody seeks a matching libretto to be soulmates..

The first author watched the Movie Cinderella for countless times since sine she  was a child, before and after my mother passed away when I got a stepmother, and later with my own daughter.  The  classic story is too divorced from reality and lacks  authenticity. It is a spiritual opium for little girls. Here, love seems to be a romance, a chance encounter without prerequisites and foundations. I am very worried about how these two young people who are happily in love will face their future life. Even if it is an aristocratic life, with  no need to worry about daily necessities;  it still needs a lot of mutual understanding and common language.

Alma Deutscher, a 17-year-old girl in the UK, is a talented composer and screenwriter. The Cinderella that she has rewritten endows this well-known fairy tale with universal value and practical significance, and also endows love with a solid foundation and basic conditions. Love is not only a good match between beauty and family background, but also requires similar education, common hobbies and languages, values ​​and ideas for long-term coexistence and continuous love.

About the  Performance

Full of beautiful melodies, Alma’s compositional gifts are revealed. The singers who gave this music feast also showed their extraordinary talents. Whether it is Cinderella and the prince, the king and the minister, or the stepmother and her two daughters, as well as the fairy, everyone’s performances and arias are very impressive. An extraordinary success!

Puerto Rican soprano Natalia Santaliz made a low-key and talent Cinderella, with her half-depressed singing at the beginning. However, hidden in this repressed voice is the noble and innocent heart of a genius girl. This is in stark contrast to the insolence and vulgarity of her stepmother’s two daughters, Griselda and Zibaldona. From the oppressive atmosphere on the stage at the first act, to being bullied in the middle, to the happy time of having the wedding with the prince at the end, Natalia gave just the right performance. Griselda and Zibaldona’s height further set off Cinderella’s petite figure, adding to the audience’s sympathy and affection for her. Griselda and Zibaldona’s verses are filled with comically raspy high notes and dissonant tones, accentuating their  contrary blandness. Although the stepmother played by Rena Harms just has a few  arias, she fully exposes the ugly side of domineering human nature. Her two raised eyebrows and her bright red dress exposed a domineering vulgarity.

The prince, played by Joey Harmmond-Leppek, looks like a poet in his nature, being so romantic and persistent. From the beginning until just before his own wedding, dressed in ordinary clothes, he was ridiculed by girls and mistreated by passers-by, which showed his otherworldly nature. He doesn’t take the king’s or prince’s scepter very seriously, which allows him to finally fall in love with Cinderella who came from an ordinary family. Cinderella is dazzling at the ball but chooses this young man dressed in plain clothes as her dance partner, showing her kindness and simplicity. In the end, it is poetry and music that connect them tightly.

Cinderella, stepsisters

Two favorite characters are the king and his valet, played by Bass-baritone Ben Brady and Baritone Brian James Myer. The king is tall and mighty, while the minister is cautious and comical, trying to please his masters at every moment. Their performances are simple and honest, vividly presenting the relationship between  masters and  servant. Last but hardly least is the Fairy played by Megan Esther Grey. Her singing voice is very mellow, full of the tranquility and gentleness of fairyland. Appearing out of the forest, her voice shows an indescribable remoteness and mystery.

If there is anything for this work to improve on, it’s the ending: a celebratory banquet for the wedding of Prince and Cinderella. Unfortunately, it devolves into ordinary blessings and celebrations, and then it’s over. There is no highlight and heightened reprise of the soul of the work —- a musical melody. We suggest instead to conclude with Prince and Cinderella standing in the middle of the stage surrounded by others and singing the beautiful melody created by Cinderella, which inspired  their true love.

The Valley of Arts Delight

Silicon Valley is the globe’s leading  entrepreneurial technology  attractor and generator. Will sufficient wealth spill over to support an equivalent cultural renascence? The jury is hardly seated!  A thriving off Camino Real theatre scene, for example, Pear and Theatreworks, lacks a Broadway equivalent. New York’s Pace Gallery shuttered its Palo Alto branch to focus on the  more  developed Los Angeles art market,  leaving the highly art-resourced, sparsely patronized Qualia Contemporary gallery in place on University Avenue, adjacent to a thriving Apple Store. 

Can bottom up succeed with only modest top down support and sparse lateral networks? Silicon Valley’s dense entrepreneurial infrastructure shows a pathway for the future of the arts, starting with a relatively modest infusion of resources into Stanford’s arts district. When Stanford Arts attracts equivalent donor support as the Doerr Sustainability School, a strong signal will be given to the mid-peninsular region’s nascent cultural Renascence. May the “Valley of Hearts Delight,” the Apricot Orchards that became Shopping Centers, be restored as Silicon Valley morphs into the Metaverse of human-centered AI, with PAVAM (Performing Arts, Visual Arts and Music) linked to STEM. 

Photos: Courtesy of California Theatre, San Jose

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